Wildlife management: consultation analysis
This report presents the key themes to emerge from our consultation on wildlife management in Scotland 2022.
This summary presents an overview of the analysis of responses to a public consultation on Wildlife Management in Scotland. The consultation sought views on a range of topics related to wildlife management, with sections covering grouse moor licensing, muirburn and matters relating to the use of traps and snares.
The consultation opened on 26 October 2022 and closed on 14 December 2022. In total 4,863 standard responses were received, of which 129 were from groups or organisations and 4,734 from individual members of the public.
Please note that the nature of the open questions asked (generally phrased 'If you answered no...') means that the range of views set out at the open questions tends not to reflect the balance of opinion at the closed questions.
Licensing of grouse shooting
Overall views on licensing
A majority, 67% of those who answered the question, agreed that the licensing of grouse shooting should be introduced to deter raptor persecution and wildlife crime linked to grouse moor management.
In terms of those who disagreed, the analysis of comments across the section on licensing grouse shooting suggests that many took one of two overall positions. The first was that there should be no licensing scheme, or that proposals should be amended significantly. The second was that grouse shooting, and sometimes shooting of any animals for sport, should be banned.
The issues raised by those who did not think a licensing regime is required included that a licensing scheme would be disproportionate, that there is no evidence to suggest it is needed and that incidents of raptor persecution related to grouse moor management at an historic low. Connected to these issues was a common view that the current arrangements for grouse moor management are sufficient or work well, and should remain as they are. Respondents also wanted the Scottish Government to consider the rights of those who own land, including their human rights.
A number of respondents noted their general support for the introduction of a licensing regime, with further comments including that it is a proportionate approach to tackling some longstanding issues of public concern. There was particular reference to crimes against birds of prey and other wildlife and the misuse and abuse of traps. However, some respondents, including some who saw the proposed licensing regime as a useful first step, were looking for more extensive changes, and some called for a ban on grouse shooting.
Responsibility for licences and other arrangements
A majority agreed that the person responsible for the management decisions should be responsible for acquiring and maintaining the licence (79% of those answering the question) and that a person wishing to shoot grouse on land that they do not own, or occupy, should be required to check that the person who owns the land has a licence (81% of those answering).
The most-frequently made suggestion by some margin was that responsibility for acquiring and maintaining the licence should sit with the owner of the sporting or shooting lease or rights. In terms of whether the person wishing to shoot should be required to check whether a licence is in place, the most frequent comment was that they should not because responsibility should sit only with the licence holder.
A majority agreed that if licensing is introduced, NatureScot should be the licensing authority (75% of those answering) and that a licence should be granted for a maximum period of one year (renewable on an annual basis thereafter) (65% of those answering). Among those who suggested alternative timeframes, the most-frequent suggestion was that licences should remain valid indefinitely unless ownership of the sporting rights changes, or the licence is suspended.
Burden of proof, record keeping and reporting
A majority thought that the civil rather than the criminal burden of proof is an acceptable test for the application of sanctions in relation to grouse moor licences (64% of those answering) and that where a person holds a valid licence, and there is sufficient evidence to show that, on the balance of probabilities a wildlife crime has been committed on their property, NatureScot should have the power to impose the proposed penalties (69% of those answering).
Among the minority who did not agree that the civil rather than the criminal burden of proof is an acceptable test, a frequent position was that it is not appropriate to suspend a licence on a 'balance of probabilities' that a wildlife crime has taken place, and that proof must be to a criminal standard or 'beyond reasonable doubt'. Another concern raised by many respondents was that individuals or groups opposed to grouse shooting could exploit a lower standard of proof to 'set up' estates in order to sabotage the business. It was suggested that, if a civil burden of proof is adopted, then there must be a statutory right of appeal to a court of law, with a process that is accessible, robust and independent.
A small majority of respondents, 51% of those answering the question, thought that both record keeping and reporting requirements should be part of licence conditions.
Licence for muirburn
A majority agreed that that a licence should be required to undertake muirburn regardless of the time of year that it is undertaken (68% of those answering the question).
The issues raised most frequently by respondents who disagreed with licensing were the role of muirburn as a vital land management tool, its benefits for mitigation of wildfires and its positive impacts on biodiversity, including in mosaic habitat creation. A much smaller proportion of respondents who disagreed wished to see a ban on muirburn rather than an extension of licensing arrangements.
Some respondents saw the proposed licence for muirburn as unnecessary regulation, adding to paperwork and administrative costs for estates. Respondents also highlighted the levels of skill and experience among those who practice muirburn on grouse moors.
A majority agreed that if muirburn licensing is introduced, NatureScot should be the licensing authority (79% of those answering), and that there should be a ban on muirburn on peatland unless it is done under licence as part of a habitat restoration programme approved by NatureScot (69% of those answering the question). A majority did not think that there are additional purposes (other than for habitat restoration, public safety (e.g. fire prevention), and research) for which muirburn on peatland should be permitted (64% of those answering).
Definition of peat
The most common view, taken by 44% of those answering the question, was that the definition of peat set out in the Muirburn Code should not be amended to 40cm, while 38% thought that the definition should be 40cm.
Among those who disagreed, some respondents argued that the Scottish Government should amend the definition to less than 40cm peat depth, with frequent suggestions being either 30cm peat depth, or a ban on muirburn. There were calls both for a ban on muirburn in general and, more specifically, for a ban on muirburn on peat. Other respondents noted they saw no reason to change the current definition of 50cm, including because there is no evidence that muirburn carried out correctly affects underlying peat. It was suggested that NatureScot has found a 'lack of evidence to determine the impacts of muirburn on different depths of peat', and that no evidence has been presented to support introduction of a lower, 40cm threshold.
One point of agreement was that it is important that peat is protected. However, respondents disagreed on how this should be achieved, with some seeing muirburn as a means of protecting peat, while others viewed muirburn as damaging or destroying it.
Overall views on further controls
Respondents who disagreed with further restrictions on muirburn often referenced wildfire prevention or biodiversity improvements and the creation of mosaic habitats as reasons that muirburn should be seen as a positive land management practice. While many expressed a view that muirburn licensing is unnecessary, it was also argued that, if introduced, a licensing scheme should be based on operator licences.
In contrast, among respondents who thought that muirburn should be subject to greater control, arguments included that it can or does harm wildlife and/or reduce biodiversity. The importance of protecting carbon stored in peat was emphasised in the context of the climate emergency. There was also reference to muirburn preventing natural regeneration of vegetation, creating run-off that can pollute watercourses, exacerbating flooding and having a negative visual impact on the landscape.
In addition to those respondents arguing in favour of greater control over muirburn, some sought a complete ban on the practice. A frequently-made point, including by many individual respondents, was that muirburn licences should never be given for the purpose of management for grouse shooting.
Traps and snares
The majority of respondents agreed with the proposals relating to a person operating a wildlife management trap applying for a unique identification number (85% of those answering), successfully completing an approved course dealing with the relevant category of trap (85% of those answering) and undergoing refresher training every 10 years (89% of those answering). Those who referred to 'Other' traps were most likely to suggest that the proposals should apply to all wildlife traps.
Overall, 60% of those who answered the question agreed with a requirement for both record keeping and reporting, and 70% agreed with the proposed penalties set out.
The most frequently-given reason for objecting to the proposals was that they are excessive, with particular concerns about one of the proposed penalties being a custodial sentence. Some respondents were concerned about the proposed penalties being applied to what were seen as 'administrative' offences, such as failure to keep records, registration and training, where these do not have a direct impact on animal welfare. The potential for malicious tampering with, or damage to, traps was also a key concern or some of those who felt that the proposed penalties are too severe.
However, many others thought that the proposals do not go far enough to deter offending and prevent animal cruelty. This included some who wished to see a ban on all trapping but who felt that, in the absence of an outright ban, regulation should reflect a 'zero tolerance' approach to animal cruelty.
The majority of respondents agreed that the use of glue traps designed to catch rodents should be banned in Scotland (78% of those answering) and that their sale should be banned (79% of those answering). However, a majority disagreed that there should be a two-year transition period before the ban on glue traps comes into force (69% of those answering).
Many respondents were strongly opposed to any continuing use of glue traps, with the majority of those commenting wishing to see the proposed ban introduced immediately. Support for an immediate ban was primarily linked to the animal welfare impacts of glue traps, including their indiscriminate nature and risks to non-target wild and domestic species. Some described such traps as 'inhumane' and 'outdated'.
However, others suggested that there is still a place for responsible use of glue traps. These respondents described glue traps as an effective 'last resort' means of rodent control in cases where other methods would not resolve the issue. The was particular reference to 'high risk sites' where public health could be a factor.
The majority of respondents agreed that that operators should be required to update their records at least once every 48 hours (73% of those answering) and that a power of disqualification should be introduced for snaring offences (70% of those answering).
Many of those commenting indicated that they opposed the proposals because they supported a ban on the sale and use of snares. These respondents suggested that any additional regulation of snares would not be appropriate, and that a ban is 'long overdue'. It was suggested that an outright ban would be more consistent with the Scottish Government's wider approach to protecting animal welfare and biodiversity and there were concerns about significant negative animal welfare impacts, even when best practice is followed.
However, some respondents referred to legislation already in place for specific offences, and to improvement in snare design to minimise animal welfare impacts. In this context, it was suggested that further regulation is not required. Respondents also raised concerns that proposals represent efforts to further reduce the range of wildlife management tools available to land managers.
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